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Three Ideas For the Governor’s Racism Commission

Start with Statewide Network of Public Defender Offices!

I get the Governor’s email reports (just like 500,000 others). I started when the previous governor was governor and it continued unabated until now because I have not unsubscribed from it.

And I won’t! Useful information arrives in my email box and this one is important:

Governor Northam Announces Members of Commission to Examine Racial Inequity in Virginia Law

Here is the Governor’s thesis:

“The members of this Commission are experts, scholars, and community leaders with diverse backgrounds and deep knowledge of civil rights, equity, and the law,” said Governor Northam. “Racial discrimination is rooted in many of the laws that have historically governed our Commonwealth—identifying and eliminating racist and discriminatory language will help make Virginia more equitable for all who live and work here.”

I am not sure I agree that there is pervasive racist language in the Virginia Code. Nothing wrong with a fair examination. But just to make sure the Commission has something to do, I plan to see if I can address the Commission at it’s first meeting to be held at the West Reading Room of the Patrick Henry Building at 1111 East Broad Street at 1 pm on Monday, September 9, 2019.

Here’s the three ideas (my faithful readers, I love ’em, know the first one!) I plan to bring to the Commission:

  • A statewide network of public defender offices with an appellate and post-conviction unit. As long as we have some cities and counties with a public defender office and others not, it verges on unequal justice under law. It is a institutional advantage (appellate, juvenile and sentencing specialists among the lawyers, investigators, training, mentoring and support staff) that even the best court-assigned lawyers cannot keep up with, no matter how skilled they are. There are a cluster of issues related to that: Should cities and counties that supplement the pay of the Commonwealth’s Attorney office because the CA’s office prosecutes local violations also supplement the pay of the public defenders? (Hint: YES) Also need some funding for experts so that PD offices do not have to reveal their strategy to the Commonwealth to get constitutionally required funds for expert consultants and witnesses.

Now let’s turn to two other related ideas:

  • Civil asset forfeiture is where the proceeds of illegal activity (money that was laundered, vehicles used for drug deals [our supreme court held recently that one use of a vehicle in a drug transaction – just to go buy drugs – makes the vehicle subject to forfeiture] are reverted to the Commonwealth. And the forfeited item or funds goes to, you guessed it, the law enforcement agency that seized it! Hard to find a better conflict of interest. If the Commission is concerned about the misuse of the right to stop vehicles and persons for alleged crimes, civil asset forfeiture needs to either be abolished OR the proceeds diverted to civil legal aid programs!
  • I would also recommend to the Commission that they review carefully the Virginia traffic code to tighten up or recommend repeal of vague traffic laws used to stop people so law enforcement can, among other things, seize their cars!

This Commission will make recommendations to the Governor and the General Assembly by November 15.

I plan to try to sneak off from work if it is not too crazy just before 1 pm and see if I get five minutes. Two or three of these members know me slightly. I’ll keep you informed.

I almost forgot: Do my readers have other good ideas for the Commission?

About Elwood Sanders

Elwood "Sandy" Sanders is a Hanover attorney who is an Appellate Procedure Consultant for Lantagne Legal Printing and has written ten scholarly legal articles. Sandy was also Virginia's first Appellate Defender and also helped bring curling in VA! (None of these titles imply any endorsement of Sanders’ views)

One Response to “Three Ideas For the Governor’s Racism Commission”

  1. I forgot to say Lord willing on any future plans! Let’s pray he is willing!

    Sandy

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Tom White Says:

Nothing is more conservative than a republican wanting to get their majority back. And nothing is more liberal than a republican WITH a majority.

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